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The Fifteenth Amendment, lithograph with watercolor, ca. 1870-1874

In the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, Congress declared it illegal to deny citizens the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This lithograph celebrating the amendment features a portrait of Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress, with abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany.

Lithography and publication by Thomas Kelly, New York, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Fifteenth Amendment, lithograph with watercolor

Suffrage for All

After the Civil War, many suffragists who had worked to abolish slavery hoped Congress would guarantee full civil rights for all citizens, regardless of race or sex. Instead, the Fifteenth Amendment banned discrimination on the basis of race or color, but not gender. This split the ranks of those who had previously joined forces in support of civil rights. Some suffragists accepted the urgency of protecting freedmen as a step toward universal suffrage; others felt betrayed that the cause for women was not more strongly pressed.